Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What’s All the Hullabaloo About?

Earlier on this blog we may have touched on the recent Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games  controversy, and while I don’t believe we contributed a full post to it, it felt as though everything that had to be said had been said.  Now that the first two sections, both touching on the Damsels in Distress trope, have been posted and the internet has responded in its total manner of chaos blended with intellect, the truth is really there. Is this really the product that every mean-hearted, trolling, and down-right horrible post was scared of? And, yes, in my opinion they were scared. They were scared that this project would somehow damage or break the walls of the gaming community, the ‘gamer’ identity, and the realm of gaming that has for so long presented itself as being open.
But, as discussed on a previous post about the 'Gamer' identity, the ‘Gamer’ label is in itself exclusionary, and the realm of gaming does have walls.  Did these trolls and harassers think that the walls they spend so much time building and reinforcing were going to be so easily broken by one web series about women in video games? I could only hope. But no, those walls are strong, and the exclusionary, predominantly white heterosexual male girders holding them up are not easily taken down. 
Anita Sarkeesian’s first two released videos are tame, very much so. These videos brim information, with detailed research into the history of the Damsel in Distress, the history of video games, variety of the trope, a multitude of both modern and more classic games, and how the Damsel in Distress trope was transferred over to video games from earlier media.  Anita appears to have taken great care in ensuring that her videos can reach a wide audience.  While I am sure that she is fully capable of in-depth feminist discussion with the appropriate jargon, she presents herself and the information in a wide-reaching manner.  This allows for an open audience and open discussion between its viewers. 
This makes it even less threatening in some ways, and more in others. The videos are clear, concise, and intellectual and can be understood by all. Those trolling harassers can see her side of the argument in full, plain view and they can no longer fear that it will be feminist jargon, going over their heads on purpose to alienate them from what is attacking them.  There is no alienation, the video is all access. So, this is less frightening. But then comes the more frightening.
Because everything is so clear Anita can get her points and her research across quickly and efficiently. And for viewers like myself, it is a frighteningly large amount of information on just one of the several tropes she will be exploring in her series.  The pure amount of information, of games that conform to these tropes, is overwhelming. As a female gamer I now spend a portion of time examining games as I play and enjoy them. But I did not do so when I was younger or until just a few years ago.  Just the massive amount of games I have played that were on her list upset me (For the list, please visit this link for the Damsel in Distress Video).  
Check out all the example of a Damsel in Distress over at the Tropes vs. Women in Videos Games Tumblr.

The trope of Damsel in Distress not only permeates a large number of games, but it does so in such varying manners as to have subsets.  She examines these subsets not only in how they change gaming, but how they effect and have been effected by additional types of media. And it is so common. These tropes are being used to pump out low quality games with poor storytelling just to force feed the gamer mind. A Forbes contributor, Jen Bosier, said it just as I wanted to, “This isn’t just demeaning to women, it’s demeaning to gamers in general”.
            I want better games, for everyone. And that means creating in-depth stories that are not demeaning for the ever-expanding gaming community. These videos should in some small amount be feared, they are airing out the video games community’s closet and showing the world that, yes, things do need to change. 


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Art of the Fantastic

I had the great luck to be able to attend Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2 just a little while ago.  The drive to Kansas City, MO took far longer than I should have wished, but it was well worth it. The variety of great artists filling the gallery hall was a site I will remember in both my memory and my photo album. These are the paintings that inspire children to dream of dragons, for men and women to visualize as they read through books to escape their lives for a short time, these are the pieces that create a world beyond the real.  While my main objective for this trip was to enjoy the fantastic art I have loved since childhood and to have informative conversations with artist of a far better caliber than myself, I always have secondary objectives. 
Spectrum 20 Award Gala, Beautiful

Walking around the hall, rows of paintings, sketches, sculptures, and live demonstrations, it is easy to identify some of the classic depiction of sci-fi and fantasy women. Sadly, these classic depictions are most commonly that of the Damsel in Distress, the Evil Seductress, or the Power is Sex(y). There were rows upon rows of booths, but within those rows, hidden sometimes at the corners, these upsetting depictions of the women in sci-fi and fantasy were still alive. At one point I began to notice that some of the paintings, prints, and illustration that had more graphic sexual content were being censored with small slips of stick-notes. They were stuck on, hiding nipples or genitalia, while the rest of the picture was open for the viewing public. The picture of the chained woman with the distressed face and her legs spread, the exposed captured woman being taken off, the seductress enthralling onlookers with her sexual power, were all okay for viewing, all undamaging, as long as those few key pieces of anatomy were covered.  Seeing this it gave off a sad message: Viewing women as disempowered and objectified is fine, so long as that sticky-note stayed were it was stuck. I know this may have been for the sake of the children, since both artists and spectators were free to bring their children and some certainly did, but that does not really make the situations any better in my opinion. By blocking off those parts, but not the image it self, it may make it appropriate for public viewing, but it certainly does not decrease the impact it would have on how a boy views women or how a girl will choose to view herself.
I would like to clarify that I am not at all opposed to nudity in art. Nudity in art has existed since the beginning of art itself. The human body can convey power, grace, beauty, sexuality, environmental interaction, and the spectrum of human emotion.  David Palumdo's Fed is a great example of the power nudity can convey to an image. It is a disappointment when these such powerful works are overrun by the objectified and over-sexualized female figures so common in the sci-fi and fantasy world.  Again, though, similar to the argument about who has the power in what children see if video games, who has the power to change what is seen on book or comic covers?
Dan Dos Santos, a great artist I had the pleasure of meeting at SFAL2, was indirectly accused by a BBC article of being sexist in his works by using one of Dos Santos’ works as the example for sexist science fiction art.  The article goes on, giving other examples including the classic Conan depictions. The article brings up a few good points, such as how “many science fiction and fantasy readers are disappointed to encounter everyday sexism in a medium that is supposed to offer an escape” (which is similar to the immersion-problem many feel when playing video games).  It also points out that many science fiction covers, classic and modern, are still created to attract a heterosexual male audience, even though the amount of science fiction and fantasy female authors and readers, as well as members of the TGLBQ community, is on the rise.  One of the most powerful, and true, lines from the BBC article comes as a quote from Tracy Hurley:

"Male characters [are] powerful and strong, and women's sexuality will be emphasized. And why is that a problem? It's constraining for both men and women."

Art Hall, filled with fans, both men and women.
In response to this indirect critique, the artist collaboration blog Muddy Colors responded internally with a post by Arnie Fenner, retiring co-director of the long running Spectrum books that inspired/created the whole SFAL event.  Arnie brings up the key of the whole issue in his post Objectify:

“But unless I'm missing something, here's the thing that bugged me about the BBC article and Hines' cosplay: the artists get the "blame" for what appears on the books' covers. Not the writers whose stories and descriptions lend themselves to the interpretations being decried; not the publishers, not the editors, not the art directors, not the sales reps, not the retailers, and not the consumers. All of whom dictate what the commercial artist creates and delivers. If they don't approve, if the artist doesn't follow direction and give them what they're paying for, the art is never seen. If the customers don't buy the books, other solutions are sought.”


I agree, mostly. I agree that it takes a whole line of people from writer, to an art director, to an artist, to a publisher, to the consumer to create the sphere of influence in which these art pieces (both written and visual) can exist.  There is no easy solution. It is a whole cultural setting in which the realm of the idealized men and objectified women is written about, enforced, and portrayed. No individual or part of the chain of creation can be completely at fault, and blame cannot be so easily delegated.

            So, when a talented artist such as Dos Santos creates works such as the one critiqued by the BBC article, it took several stages for it to become that particular piece. The writer created the character, the art director gave input for the work, and the art was completed through the views of several people, not the artist alone. Also, to have called out an individual piece without these correct justifications was an obvious mistake. Sexist and objectified depictions, in video games, in comics, in the world of Fantastic art, do not exist in a vacuum and do not under the majority of circumstances come into the public view through the work of an individual.

            I’ve heard it said that in the art world that you have to take the jobs offered to you. To start off, you need all the money, work, and publicity you can get. Young artists, or artists just starting off, may find that falling in line with these constricted image types is the best way to begin a career, but this will only continue to perpetuate these images for years to come. Once set in their career, artist can choose to be picky. Steven Belledin, another artist I have had the great opportunity to meet, never compromises his values in his depiction of female characters.  He has said that this has at times put him at odds with those offering jobs, but I would like to assure him that for some viewers and new artists just knowing that not compromising is an option is a light for a better future. 


Let's Talk About XBox One Game

I just got done watching Spike’s live coverage of Xbox One and its exclusive game reveals. Granted, I’m not going to purchase an Xbox One, but I thought it would be fun to see some of the trailers for new games. And it was. Until something so repulsive and yet so familiar happened.

A producer for Killer Instinct was playing a game with an Xbox Live employee, Ashton, in order to demonstrate the powers of Smartglass. Ashton quipped in good humor that whomever thought it was a good idea for her to fight the producer of the game was “gonna get it.” She was a good sport about having the producer massacre her at his own game in front of thousands. And then he said, “Just let it happen. It will be over soon.” To which the audience laughed and applauded.

Yes, because the very real threats of violence against women are FUNNY. The world witnessed what non white hetero cis men experience in the gaming world regularly. Ironically, as Microsoft pushes for more ways to connect to others while gaming, this demo clearly illustrates why this might NOT be a selling point for some.

That would have been enough, but the producer kept going. “Wow, you like this,” he said to Ashton. Her response, “Uh, no. I don’t like this.”

My sentiments exactly. “Uh, no. I don’t like this.”